They fail the class. You find drug paraphernalia in their room. You realize they lied to you after they swore repeatedly they were telling the truth. You discover they are having sex. They suddenly refuse to go to school.
Whatever the crisis, and however the moment arrives, it can be a shocking, painful awakening, unleashing a tsunami of hurt, anger and frustration inside you. Then come the gut-wrenching questions: What does this mean? Why else are they doing you don't know yet about? How can you be the parent you want to be and deal with this in a compassionate yet realistic and responsible way??
Yet whatever the crisis is, and however it arrives, your first and best strategy is to: STOP!
Take a step back. Take a deep breath. Take a moment to yourself. In short, do whatever it takes to give yourself time enough to think it through. You don't need to have THE answer at that moment the crisis suddenly presents itself. You can simply tell your teen, "This is serious. I'll need some time to think about it." Give yourself the time and space to think calmly and clearly so that you can ACT accordingly, and not react to the feelings of urgency ignited by the moment.
Your answer/response doesn't need to be perfect or ideal, so much as it needs to come from your grown-up's position of heartfelt responsibility and thoughtful authority. Remember: HOW you respond can be more far more important than what you say. So seek first to truly understand the reasons for your child's behavior before moving to prescribe consequences. Give yourself enough time to think and choose how you want to respond.
Above all, and as tempting as it might be, do not turn a challenge into a crisis, or a crisis into a catastrophe.
So, once you have arrived at a point of emotional stabilization, now comes the process of determining what your response will go. At this delicate time, it is essential not to craft a consequence, or set of consequences, that unwittingly promotes and encourages the very behavior you are trying to discourage.
For example: an upset dad who imposed a three month, summer "grounding" on his daughter who he had caught drinking a beer, inadvertently created circumstances in which his daughter, with nothing to do over vacation but hang around the house, began experimenting with mood-altering pills she had found in home medicine cabinet. In short, not only did her dad NOT win her understanding or obedience, as he thought his disciplining might, he had in effect only driven her behavior further underground with an far more potentially dangerous result.
Clearly, not the father's intent, but it was his unintended result.
So try to be be as thoughtful as possible in the consequences you impose.
So the most important, overall strategy can be summed up this way: BEFORE, DURING and AFTER the moments of inevitable challenge and crisis: Try to let your children see you working to become more aware of your own hypocrisies as a person, and someone who owns up to them. That way, your children will not learn to see you as a "Do as I say, not as I do" parent, but rather as a human being continually working to understand and improve themselves -- providing your children with an invaluable example and life lesson.
In truth, WHAT you do, and HOW you are as their parent often has far more of an effect on them and their lives than what you tell them to do.
A little humor along the way can help, too, because we are all -- children and parents alike -- riddled with hypocrisies. So let's find ways to laugh a little about them as a family, helping each other with our "blind-spots" as people.
So try to find positive ways about what you are trying to teach them, and why there are consequences to their choices and actions in life.
Do your absolute best to make sure they understand that the consequences you are imposing on them are not to make them suffer for suffering's sake, but rather to draw their attention back to what you are trying to teach them.
And last, but never least: parenting is not about perfection. There is no such thing. Rather, it's about giving your children your best you, and taking the lead of this dance in a way that will teach them how to lead their own dance one day, openly, honestly and responsibly. We look forward to hearing from you here, or at our soon to be up website: TheDancingParent.com. Until then, keep dancing!